The failed Christmas day terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253 has focused much attention on Yemen. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Sen Joe Lieberman warned that Yemen is likely to become the site of the next American war unless the government takes preventive measures to stop the spread of al-Qaeda. According to Lieberman, a government official in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a told him, “Iraq was yesterday’s war, Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”
We have since found out that the Fort Hood shooting as well as the Christmas day attack were both linked to Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
These attacks have mobilized opposition to repatriating Yemeni Guantánamo prisoners and could delay plans to close the prison. Lieberman, joined by sometimes Democrat Arlen Specter, and Republicans McCain and Graham, have requested that the the Obama administration should not release the 90 Yemeni prisoners currently held at Guantánamo Bay.
Perhaps the biggest blow to President Obama’s plans came tonight as the Democratic Party Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Obama ally Senator Feinstein warned the POTUS not to transfer any more Gitmo detainees to Yemen:
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…..The senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee wants no more Guantanamo Bay detainees released to Yemen in the wake of a Christmas day terrorist attack hatched in that country. “Guantanamo detainees should not be released to Yemen at this time,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “It is too unstable.”
Feinstein’s warning comes just nine days after the Department of Justice announced the most recent transfer of 12 detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somaliland. Six of the 12 were transferred to the government of Yemen.
An al Qaeda wing in Yemen claimed responsibility for last week’s attempted bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight headed to Detroit. The organization known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the plot was retaliation for U.S. assistance to Yemen’s military, which has launched air strikes on safe house and training camps in recent weeks that killed as many as 60 al Qaeda members.
In addition, two of the planners behind the Christmas Day bombing plot had been released to Saudi Arabia [for art therapy] from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 and ended up rejoining terrorist ranks in Yemen, according to a report by ABC News’s Brian Ross. Feinstein joins a chorus of Republicans who have issued warnings about the release of detainees in the aftermath of Friday’s attempted attack on the passenger jet.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Tuesday sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to halt the transfer of six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen given the danger they realize that country now poses. Obama on Tuesday blamed a “systematic failure” in the nation’s security apparatus for the attempted bombing and vowed to identify the problems and “deal with them immediately.” He said a review of the failures would be completed by Thursday. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, urged Obama to “rethink” his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the wake of last week’s attack. He said reports that two of the planners behind the Christmas Day bombing plot had been released from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 should immediately force Obama to call back former detainees recently released in Yemen and elsewhere.
“The president ought to rethink it now,” Bond told The Hill. “The question is are we going to take every step possible to keep our country safe? That means stop releasing Gitmo detainees now.” Obama has so far stood firm in his decision to shutter Guantanamo, arguing its closure would restore international credibility in the U.S. legal system. The president has pledged not to release any detainee who would endanger the American people and set up the Guantanamo Review Task Force to review information about detainees before making a decision on whether to release them.
In the Dec. 20 announcement about the detainees’ release, the Justice Department said the task force had conducted a “comprehensive review” in each of the cases, examining potential threat and mitigation measures. More than 560 detainees have departed Guantanamo Bay for 36 countries since 2002, according to Justice.
When he took office, the president set a one-year deadline to close the prison but earlier this month acknowledged it would slip as he looks for places to transfer the detainees, including the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois
The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Feinstein’s and Bond’s warnings demonstrates heightened concern in the intelligence community about the rate of recidivism for released Guantanamo Bay detainees. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense confirmed that at least 18 detainees who were released had rejoined the terrorist ranks. The Pentagon suspected another 43 of doing the same. Bond said the Obama administration should have learned from the mistakes of the Bush administration. “The Bush administration made a mistake — they experimented,” Bond said. “Why you wouldn’t learn from your mistake is beyond me. Why the administration would continue to do things that have proven to be disastrous is incomprehensible. “I am really steamed on this. This is a real threat to our homeland. Terror is something we’re not just fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Bond sent the White House a letter in May asking Obama to release information the Guantanamo Bay Review Task Force used in determining each detainee’s propensity for recidivism. In December, Bond sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, asking him to declassify a recent report containing updated recidivism statistics on released Guantanamo Bay detainees. Neither letter received an answer.
Bond said he has yet to be briefed about the details surrounding the bombing plot, although the administration has set up an intelligence committee staff briefing that will take place “soon.” In addition to providing reasons for reconsidering plans to close Guantanamo Bay, Republicans argue the intelligence breaches show why Congress should extend the Patriot Act as initially approved in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Just before the holiday break, Congress passed a two-month extension on three Patriot Act powers that would have expired at the end of the year. After the two months are up, the House and Senate will be forced to reconcile their differences over whether Congress should reauthorize key Patriot Act components, including the “lone wolf” records and “roving wiretap” powers. The “lone wolf” power allows the government to track targets who don’t have any discernible affiliation with terrorist or other foreign groups. The bill would reauthorize the powers for four years.